As a British Asian woman, I truly understand how cultural upbringing can have an impact on your life, especially as you become an adult. Your beliefs are not always your own, and due to the enmeshment which happens, prevalently in minority communities, you are forced to adopt a specific way of thinking, as opposed to having a free voice. As I grew older I began challenging my own beliefs that I adopted from my parents, and so has my guest this week!
"It's funny how we need to make these decisions so early on. Whether its deciding what subjects to continue at school, or which college we want to go to, or whether or not our parents are going to be happy about our decisions! Gosh, the pressure! Can't we just be, for heavens sake?!"
I remember when I first decided I wanted to be an actor, like it was yesterday. I left a drama class and we had done some improvisation in that class. I remember looking down at a floor imagining a body of someone I loved. Completely morbid now thinking of it! However I was so excited by using my imagination. I was so thrilled to not be bound by anything. In contrast we did some silly comedy improvisation which obviously was a completely different experience but nonetheless exciting. I left the class feeling great! How I would do anything to get out of sports education periods! Can't I just do drama forever? A very close friend at the time, jumped with joy to exclaim, that maybe I should be an actress. And that was the first time somebody else, other than myself acknowledged me as a "performer."
There was this bright bulb shining within me, and it was pretty much around the same time, around 12/13 years old, when I decided with conviction, that yes, this is what I want to do for life! It's funny how we need to make these decisions so early on. Whether it's deciding what subjects to continue at school, or which college we want to go to, or whether or not our parents are going to be happy about our decisions! Gosh, the pressure! Can't we just be, for heaven's sake?! Many a time, I've asked myself if the pressure was removed from this equation and if we really were completely free to do whatever we want, whether I would have made the same decisions. I like to think that truly, if I could be anything, even now, it would always be this. Acting is...magical.
Despite deciding mentally that I wanted to be an Actor, I don't think I had the balls to really vocalize it to anyone, especially my parents. I immersed myself in school plays, weekend acting and dance lessons and solo improv in front of the mirror in my bedroom, waiting for something to be birthed. An opportunity maybe? Courage perhaps? And slowly I think my mum began to understand that it was performing that I wanted to pursue. I remember her telling me and my brother that we can do anything we want, as long as we finish our studies. Had my dad been given the chance to have this conversation, I think it would have been very different. Though he never expressed fully that he didn't want me to do it, he did stress on the fact that I was intelligent enough to do something more constructive with my life. It was ok to be involved in Drama yes, but perhaps as a teacher, a trainer, a director even potentially but God forbid, not an Actor!
"I knew deep down inside, I had to do the right thing for me. "
Despite the differences in opinion, I was the stubborn child who didn't budge but certainly disappointed. The burden always loomed over me, that I wasn't going to make my dad happy with this choice, but at the same time I knew deep down inside, I had to do the right thing for me. This is what I was supposed to do. This is the industry I am supposed to work in. And so everyday I convinced myself of this.
My mum continued to be supportive as much as possible through this process. I am so eternally grateful for this. I know over the years, she has turmoiled over whether it was a good idea, seeing me struggle and face multiple rejections. Realizing that the reality is very different, to the glitz and glamour on TV, and magazines, I know inside she looked at other kids who were growing day by day, starting families, reaching milestones, and it probably felt like I was just in this one bubble and it just wouldn't burst. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not. I learnt some tough lessons along the way, no doubt. I am still learning. I hit some beautiful milestones, getting to work on the sets of big Hindi feature films in India, having a lead role in a Disney Show, getting to travel for work and signing a bunch of autographs. The thing I do wish I knew though, is that it never was about one milestone, it never is. The journey of doing what you love is continuous, it doesn't stop. Once you reach one milestone, another appears and you have a new goal, a new target to hit, a new reason to stay up all night pondering on the what if's. I wish someone told me that I don't need to constantly bend to what other people want me to be, that acting was about getting to know ME. That it is a lifetime process. The more you discover who you are, the better an Actor you become. It wasn't all about finding the objective, and creating inner objects in your head, and figuring out your "moment before" entering a scene. It wasn't all make believe! It wasn't about wearing a mask and forgetting who Anisa was. No it was actually about finding who Anisa was. And when I realized this, I fell in love with acting all over again, years later.
"The journey of the doing what you love is continuous, it doesn't stop. Once you reach one milestone, another appears and you have a new goal, a new target to hit, a new reason to stay up all night pondering on the what if's."
"Now, I know I've done enough. I know I've done my best. And if I am not right for this one project, it doesn't make me not right at all. "
I know that as a teenager I couldn't say all I wanted to say, to quote Natasha (this weeks guest). I know that above all I desperately wanted to be accepted. Isn't that what we all want? To be loved for who we are. As someone in the entertainment world, I know one thing we all share is a desire for approval of some kind. However very quickly this can bleed into everything we do. Every audition room we go into, every conversation we have, every email we send! We have a need to be hired by someone, be it an agent, a casting director, a producer. And so many people have now realized how important it is to create for yourself, which is brilliant because suddenly when you do, there is no need to be liked by anyone but yourself! I was listening to a brilliant podcast this morning, an Actor's roundtable of sorts. Human beings who decided that they wanted to take more creative control and start writing, start directing and have more of a say in the creative process. And no this wasn't giving up. They still acted here and there. They still would consider themselves actors but it wasn't "Actor." with a full stop. It was Actor and...
A life altering thought I was left with, was it's actually the living of life which makes you better as a creative, whatever it is that you do. When we live, we acquire experience, we learn, we grow, we have good/bad conversations, we make mistakes, we win, we lose. But we have to live for this. We can't just be waiting for the phone to ring, we can't constantly be shuffling our personal lives to meet the needs of work all the time. I'm not saying work doesn't demand compromises and sacrifices, but I am saying that as a creative we can become fixated on this and start over controlling everything to meet that demand. The magic is being able to let go. I have a love/hate relationship with the word surrender, but for the first time in my life, I am understanding why we have to. Why we have to live. And when I see that the fruits of living are having more thriving relationships, better acting opportunities (when they do come up!) and a more full life, it makes me want to keep doing it. Sure I turn into a psycho control freak at certain times, and deep down I want to book the job always! That doesn't change. But now, I know I've done enough. I know I've done my best. And if I am not right for this one project, it doesn't make me not right at all. There is soooooo much freedom in this. And I truly wish I believed it sooner!
So on the South Asian community front (I know I've waffled on a bit) some things haven't changed. Sure there are always the questions of "what's coming up next," or "what have you been in again," or "when are you getting married!" But most of all, I have changed. I have realized my voice means something. I can stand up for myself and say hey I'm different! And you know what I frickin love it! I want to do this, warts and all! ok maybe not the warts! I take that back, but you know what I mean. I am my biggest cheerleader and ambassador, and sure sometimes I need an encouraging word from someone, but I can also give that gift to myself everyday. I don't need to wait on anyone to tell me I'm worthy anymore. And that my friends, is the BIGGEST GIFT!
In this week's episode we are reminded that whatever our own individual experiences and traumas are, there is indeed LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. The more we dismantle and share our voices, the more we provide hope to other people sharing these experiences and realize for ourselves that we are not alone. Our identity and the way we view ourselves informs our behaviour so much, that if we don't take time to understand it, we never operate from a settled place of knowing who we are and therefore understanding our values. This can lead to so much self abandonment and self sabotage.
So take time out for yourself today. Remind yourself, you aren't your job title or what people say about you. You get to decide who you are! So don't tell them, but go out there and show them!